By Rick Brouwer
National Forest Week is a good time to discuss the “forest future” in the Skeena-Nass region. We are blessed with forest lands that provide us with world-class beauty and recreational opportunities, water and wildlife, culture and livelihood. We have received many benefits from our forests over the years, but I think we can all agree that the economic benefits have varied recently due to boom-and-bust cycles in the global economy.
At the Skeena-Nass Center for Innovation in Resource Economics (SNCIRE) we believe we need to diversify, look for new high-value uses and niche market opportunities. The oil and gas industry earns over 40 per cent of its income from specialty products that are only 4 per cent of its total production. In other words, they have focussed on getting the best economic value from that resource. Wouldn’t it be great if 4 per cent of the products from our forests could produce 40 per cent of the total value? With research, development, and innovation, I believe we can achieve that goal.
SNCIRE has a number of ideas for specialty products and uses, and I’ll bet there are many other creative and imaginative people in our region that have their own ideas.
Taking a good idea all the way to market is a challenging task. Research, development, and prototyping take time, and the costs can be prohibitive. That’s why SNCIRE is proposing a facility where this kind of development work could take place locally: an “inspiration and incubation” — or “i2” — Centre.
Imagine having a centrally located facility, where creators, inventors, and entrepreneurs — from communities throughout the Skeena-Nass region — could have ready access to the specialized types of equipment required to develop new products and new businesses. Imagine you, or someone you know, being able to create something new that leads to jobs, new opportunities, or protection of our natural environment.
There are several places where an i2 centre could be located. At present SNCIRE is looking at the old Co-op property in Terrace as a possible site. The choice of the Co-op property potentially provides a practical way to overcome some logistic and cost hurdles that could prevent the i2 Centre from becoming a reality. We see the i2 Centre as part of a larger project with multiple partners, meeting multiple commercial and community needs. This would defray costs, improve opportunities for obtaining grants and funding, and create a platform for viable commercial enterprises of interest to private developers.
That’s why at my July 11th presentation to Terrace city council I spoke about a multi-use complex made of one or more buildings that would include not only the i2 Centre, but also places for artisans to perform and sell their work, office, retail and market space, a public gathering space, and a pedestrian overpass to Keith Avenue. Partner opportunities could include education and training institutions, and commercial ventures such as hotel and/or residential spaces.
While our idea for the i2 Centre on the old Co-op property is new, the idea of a multi-use complex there is not. For instance, ASK Terrace and Skeena Diversity Society have done some great work around this concept. SNCIRE is engaging with these and other organizations to come up with a project that will be an urban planning success story that not only showcases Terrace, but also provides benefit to people from throughout the Northwest. New concept drawings will allow inclusion of the i2 Centre, and help provide a visual reference for further discussions, ideas, and planning.
This year’s Forest Week theme is “Forests for People”. What better way to embrace that theme than by encouraging people to work together on the development of new opportunities for our forests?. Together, we can “inspire and incubate” our way to a new forest future.
Rick Brouwer, RPF, is a long-time Terrace resident and is Executive Director of SNCIRE, a non-profit society working toward re-thinking, re-inventing, and re-creating our region’s resource economy.